Jul 03 2012

Ms. Lora’s Tall Tale

[Updated version]

For the past 10 years, new TFAers have been inspired by the lengthy reading entitled ‘Ms. Lora’s Story,’ about a Houston ’00 corps member who worked miracles in her first year at Blair Elementary School in Houston, getting her 4th grade class to be the first to ever have 100% passing the state test.

But when I looked up the data for ‘Blair’ (actually Ryan Elementary) the numbers simply don’t add up.  Here is some data from their 2000-2001 Academic Excellence Indicator System, which you can examine for yourself on Texas’ excellent data report system.

Now, it is possible that I am reading the report wrong.  Maybe she wasn’t really a 2000 CM, but since the school had 66 4th graders that year, that would be two or three fourth grade classes.  Notice that for the 4th grade, all the scores were lower in 2001 than they were in 2000.  Also notice that the fourth graders had a 66.7% pass rate in 2001, which was 11% lower than it was the year before.  So if she really got 100% of her students to pass ‘the’ test (they don’t say that it was just one section), then the other two teachers only got about 50% passing.  It does not seem likely, but, then again, what do I know.

Looking at the 4th grade scores for the next three years, we see that in 2002 the percent of 4th graders passing all three sections was 73%, in 2003 the test changed from the TAAS to the TAKS which now had a passing rate of 49%, and in her last year, I believe, 2004 60%.

Lora went on to become a high ranking official in Seattle, and has just become an assistant superintendent in Dallas.  I don’t doubt that she was a very good teacher.  My point is that there is way too much exaggeration when it comes to what sorts of ‘miracles’ (in terms of test scores, at least) have been accomplished by TFAers.  TFA needs to stop with the inflated statistics and give the new corps members a realistic picture of success.


One thing that I hope is clear is that this post is not meant to be critical of Mr. Lora, herself.  She did not write ‘Ms. Lora’s Story,’ but participated by agreeing to be interviewed for it.  The actual author of ‘Ms. Lora’s Story’ is TFA Chief Knowledge Officer Steven Farr, who also wrote the Teaching As Leadership book (which I was not fond of), and co-wrote Wendy Kopp’s new book (which was much better).

I actually contacted Mr. Lora, herself, to ask if she would be willing to share ‘the rest of the story.’  She promptly wrote back a very nice email agreeing to be interviewed in a few weeks, after she gets settled in her new job in Dallas, among other responsibilities.  She gave me a small ‘taste’ of the sort of things that she was disappointed at having been omitted from ‘her’ story.  I’m really looking forward to speaking with her.  Stay tuned …

16 Responses

  1. Meg

    What does “all tests” include? It obviously isn’t just an average of the ELA and Math. Are they tested in other subjects as well? My one thought is that it’s possible they counted only her reading and math scores, as that seems to be the norm in the high stakes testing culture of NCLB (from a slightly bitter science teacher).

  2. maureen

    In Ms Lora’s story (p. 8-), at one point the principal tells her that she will have extra kids in her class, but they will all speak English, could that make a difference?

    Interesting that, in the story, Ms. Lora is upset that she will have to teach 22-28 kids instead of the 18 she had before. Class size in Seattle is virtually never as low as 22, especially for 3rd-4th grade. Standard class size at that grade is 28. I wonder if she advocated for smaller class size for the schools she supervised in Seattle?

  3. maureen

    Ms., Lora is now leaving Seattle after two years to become an Assistant Superintendent in Dallas.

    • Linda

      A TFA teacher is not staying in the classroom, is now an expert on everything about education and will now tell teachers what to do, unbelievable and shocking!

      • Gary Rubinstein

        I don’t know much about her reputation as a ‘reformer,’ but based on the email she sent me today, she seems pretty OK. Check back in a few weeks for that interview.

  4. Michael Fiorillo

    TFA willingly publicize false information?

    Heaven forbid!

  5. Linda

    Actually, re-reading your closing isn’t that the Michelle Rhee play book…inflate your results, brag about yourself and your false record, take over a city school system, degrade and fire as many people as possible, demean teachers, juke the stats and game the system, erase your way to the top, leave before you get caught, start a national organization backed by billionaires, falsify your grassroots supporters, travel around the country demeaning more teachers while bribing elected officials to get what you want and it is all for the children while making a hefty salary and back to promoting yourself all over again, which is how the whole circus started. Go TFA alum!

    • Gary Rubinstein

      The most important question I will ask her is to clarify whether or not she told them that she had gotten 100% passing, or if that was something they made up for the story. I’m going to assume, for now, that TFA were the ones who inflated her success (or, at least, left out parts that would have made her seem more human). Stay tuned …

  6. Elle

    I took Ms. Lora’s story with a grain of salt…as well as all the videos of the “superstar” TFA teachers that were shown at Institute. I’m sure that there were tons of moments when these people were messing up just like normal folk. Editing does wonders! I just don’t understand why many CMs buy into the myth and feel like they’ve failed when they don’t measure up to what they’ve seen, read or heard.

  7. James

    Anyone hear remember the videos of Justin Meli? (‘Work Hard! Get Smart! Woo Woo!’)

    Again, not to be critical of an outstanding educator with a stellar personality and ability to invest his students, but TFA constantly playing videos of his dramatic approach to investment led many CMs to feel they also had to concoct elaborate themes to ‘invest’ their students.

    For some, but not all, this meant departing from who they really were as ‘teacher personalities.’

  8. James


    ‘I will get some textbooks from…middle school, maybe even high school.’

    Again, it worked for him, but this strategy — particularly for middle school students — would cause many to shut down (i.e. ‘we’re going to do college level work!’).

    • Linda

      Raffling off worksheets? Really…that was three minutes of lost instructional time. If they were so excited about learning why would they need to raffle them off? Wouldn’t they all just want one without the raffle?

      • Hilary

        I had the exact same thought. There was no learning going into any of that fanfare. He is (was?) obviously a dynamic teacher and he has the kids’ attention from the first second, so move onto the learning already!

  9. Linda

    Great minds! That was such a waste of time. I wonder if they really know what good instruction looks like. From reading here, it appears to be cult like with no appreciation for veteran teachers who spend their lives perfectng their craft. Some of us don’t want to move on and become “leaders”, especially the types TFA creates (Rhee, White in Louisiana and Sternberg in NYC – no thanks).

  10. Frederika

    Hard to watch this kind of melodramatic hype. Was this just for the camera or does he go through this all the time? After a while, don’t the kids get tired of this faux excitement? Since when is doing worksheets the way to learn? Seems like he spends more time imagining how he will get the kids all jazzed up than on preparing an actual lesson that moves learning forward. There is a reason that 3rd graders should be doing work appropriate to their developmental and academic levels and not be doing high school math. Yikes!

    • Linda

      And evidently that was a star…imagine what he will do as a “reformer”.

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